Why do some of my management team never seem to have the time to get strategic stuff done?

When you look at your management team, how is it that some people always manage to get their ‘special projects’ done while others just never seem to have the time?

Does this sound familiar? You kick-off your quarterly meeting with each member of the management team giving an update on the status of the projects they have been accountable for during the quarter.

It’s been a very busy 12 weeks but Anne, Bob, Cate and Dave have completed their projects. They always do. On the other hand Elle, Finn and Jim have barely started their projects.

When it’s their turn to present, Elle, Finn and Jim preface their update, as they do each quarter, with “It’s been such a busy three months that I’ve not had a chance to get on to this, what with the big tender, the system upgrade, the training…”

But is it really the case that Elle, Finn and Jim are busier than Anne, Bob, Cate and Dave?


They are probably just using being busy as an excuse.

(It’s a pretty good one, mind. How can you argue against it when you know how flat out they’ve been?)

But if it’s not busy-ness that’s keeping Elle, Finn and Jim from completing the projects, what is?

Nine times out of ten, the reason your Elles, Finns and Jims aren’t getting stuff done is because they either don’t know how to actually do the project, or they don’t believe the project is useful.

Yup, it’s nothing to do with time.

So are Elle, Finn and Jim lying about being busy? Not really. They probably truly believe that they have been too busy to do the work. But subconsciously (ok, sometimes consciously too) they’ve put off doing the project because they either don’t rank it as important. Or it’s too hard.

So what can you do about this?

The easiest way is to make time in next quarter’s planning session to check with your Elle, Finn and Jim that they:

  • Think their assigned project is worthwhile; and
  • Understand what steps they need to take on the project, and what ‘complete’ looks like.

Yes, this sounds a little ‘motherhood’. “Surely,” you say, “we don’t need to spell this out to our management team?”

Um, yes you do. In small and medium sized businesses many people bubble up into the management team because they are good at their core job, not because they are great at understanding and/or getting strategic projects done.

And why don’t they say they need help? Well, maybe they’re just a little too proud to raise their hand in front of their peers and say “I don’t get this”.

So if you don’t want them to be ‘too busy’, just help them get started.

Julia Bickerstaff‘s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has an economics degree from The London School of Economics (London University).




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